Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele

BWV 069a // For the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

(Praise thou the Lord, O my spirit) for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, vocal ensemble, flauto, oboe d’amore, oboe I-III, trumpet I-III, timpani, strings and basso continuo

J.S. Bach-Stiftung Kantate BWV 69

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Workshop
Reflective lecture

«Lutzogram» for the introductory workshop

Rudolf Lutz’s manuscript for the workshop
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Audio

The sound recording of this work is available on several streaming and download platforms.

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Performers

Soloists

Soprano
Mirjam Berli

Alto
Alex Potter

Tenor
Raphael Höhn

Bass
Dominik Wörner

Choir

Soprano
Lia Andres, Susanne Seitter, Noëmi Tran Rediger, Anna Walker, Maria Weber

Alto
Jan Börner, Antonia Frey, Lea Pfister Scherer, Alexandra Rawohl, Damaris Rickhaus

Tenor
Clemens Flämig, Raphael Höhn, Christian Rathgeber, Nicolas Savoy

Bass
Daniel Pérez, Philippe Rayot, Oliver Rudin, Tobias Wicky, William Wood

Orchestra

Conductor
Rudolf Lutz

Violin
Renate Steinmann, Monika Baer, Claire Foltzer, Elisabeth Kohler, Marita Seeger, Salome Zimmermann

Viola
Susanna Hefti, Matthias Jäggi, Martina Zimmermann

Violoncello
Martin Zeller, Hristo Kouzmanov

Violone
Markus Bernhard

Oboe
Katharina Arfken, Philipp Wagner, Natalia Herden

Bassoon
Susann Landert

Tromba da tirarsi
Lukas Gothszalk, Bruno Fernandes, Alexander Samawicz

Recorder/Flute
Annina Stahlberger

Timpani
Reto Baumann

Organ
Nicola Cumer

Harpsichord
Thomas Leininger

Musical director & conductor

Rudolf Lutz

Workshop

Participants
Karl Graf, Rudolf Lutz

Reflective lecture

Speaker

Rita Famos

Recording & editing

Recording date
25.08.2017

Recording location
Trogen AR (Schweiz) // Evangelische Kirche

Sound engineer
Stefan Ritzenthaler

Director
Meinrad Keel

Production manager
Johannes Widmer

Production
GALLUS MEDIA AG, Switzerland

Producer
J.S. Bach Foundation of St. Gallen, Switzerland

About the work

Librettist

Text
Johann Oswald Knauer, 1720/21

Text No. 1
Psalm 103:2

Text No. 6
Samuel Rodigast, 1675

First performance
15 August 1723

In-depth analysis

Cantata BWV 69a, first performed on the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity in 1723, numbers among those compositions written during Bach’s first months in Leipzig that served to assert the new Thomascantor’s ambitions as Kapellmeister. With its laudatory style and brilliant sound, the cantata was no ordinary Sunday music, and it is unsurprising that Bach later reworked it after 1740 as a festive cantata for the annual council elections. The introductory chorus is set as an expansive, four-ensemble concerto on the well-known psalm verse “Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele” (Praise thou the Lord, O my spirit); the scoring for three trumpets and timpani, three oboes and bassoon, a string ensemble and a four-part choir lend the movement considerable brilliance. Despite this full orchestration, however, the instrumental overture is feather-light and transparent in sound; the vocal ensemble, too, opens with pairings of soloistic, coloratura phrases that embody relaxed rejoicing more than ceremonial chanting. After this opening section, the four voices briefly come together before commencing a broad vocal fugue that is successively enhanced by instrumental entries; a crowning tutti-passage then leads directly into a second, more introspective fugue, whose gently sighing, descending theme is set to the text of “und vergiss nicht” (and do not forget). The compositional quality of this setting is stellar: Bach delicately interweaves the various ensemble lines while nonetheless showcasing their individual timbres, and despite the complexities of the setting, the underlying motif “Praise the Lord” is sustained throughout. In view of this stylistic mastery, it seems almost a matter of course that the two related fugue themes are then presented simultaneously, with compositional scope still remaining for declaratory calling phrases and a closing orchestral da-capo section. That three brief passages of parallel unisons in neighbouring voices are to be found among the racing machinery of this setting, has, however, not escaped the notice of the odd compositional pedant.

In the following soprano recitative, a setting suffused with inspired gratitude and ecclesiastical love, the enraptured vocalist wishes for “tausend Zungen” (one-thousand tongues) to praise God and to never again to use a mouth thus purified to utter “eitle Worte” (empty words). In the following tenor aria, this mysteriously transformed speech takes on concrete form: in a gently rocking 9⁄8-setting, Bach employs an unusual timbral combination of recorder and oboe da caccia, thus uniting blissful innocence with a gnarly warmth to realise a music that radiates an inner joy rarely granted to mere mortals. “Meine Seele, auf, erzähle, was dir Gott erwiesen hat” (O my spirit, rise and tell it, all that God hath shown to thee) – with these words, set to a nobly heroic head motif, the act of singing from “frohen Lippen” (joyful lips) becomes itself a sacrifice of thanksgiving; that Bach’s inspired combination of timbres possibly failed to achieve the intended effect in the 1723 performance might explain why he used a more typical combination of violin and oboe when later reworking the movement around 1727.

In the following contemplative recitative, the alto reflects on the many blessings received from God “von zarter Jugend an” (from tender childhood on). Although we humans are inherently incapable of adequately returning God’s love, the proximity of the Highest helps to overcome this failing. Because the librettist deftly weaves in the gospel story of the deaf and mute man (Mark 7:31) who is healed when Jesus cries “Hephata!” (Be opened!), the proclaiming mouth and the listening ear, too, are incorporated in this laudatory music. Performers and listeners alike thus become party to this purification, and the gently flowing arioso finale transforms the old Bible verse into an inspiring resolution to lead a good life.

After this display of humility, the aria exemplifies how strength can be drawn from experiencing divine love and protection. Set in minuet style with edgy dotted rhythms, the music, despite its muted key of B minor, anticipates a favourable response to the soloist’s request of “Mein Erlöser und Erhalter, nimm mich stets in deine Hut” (My redeemer and sustainer, keep me in thy care and watch). Here, an enlightened and self-assured soul steps into the ring, who, fully aware of the challenges of “Kreuz und Leiden” (cross and suffering) that lie ahead, is confident of persevering thanks to God’s righteous plan. In this setting, the string ensemble is enhanced by the warmth of the oboe d’amore; for the grounded, defiant nature of the solo part, only a sonorous bass will suffice.

For the closing chorale, an energetic setting in G minor, Bach revived a cantional setting from an earlier Weimar cantata, “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen” (weeping, wailing, grieving, fearing; BWV 12, 1714), which, despite its low register, exudes an aura of serene hope. It is not known why Bach removed the original obbligato part (which was probably for violin); when he revised the cantata again for the council elections (BWV 69), he selected another chorale entirely and included trumpets and timpani.

Libretto

1. Chor

»Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele, und vergiß nicht,
was er dir Gutes getan hat.«

2. Rezitativ (Sopran)

Ach, daß ich tausend Zungen hätte!
Ach wäre doch mein Mund
von eitlen Worten leer!
Ach, daß ich gar nichts redte,
als was zu Gottes Lob gerichtet wär!
So machte ich des Höchsten Güte kund;
denn er hat lebenslang so viel an mir getan,
daß ich in Ewigkeit ihm nicht verdanken kann.

3. Arie (Tenor)

Meine Seele,
auf! erzähle,
was dir Gott erwiesen hat.
Rühme seine Wundertat,
laß, dem Höchsten zu gefallen,
ihm ein frohes Danklied schallen.

4. Rezitativ (Alt)

Gedenk ich nur zurück,
was du, mein Gott, von zarter Jugend an
bis diesen Augenblick
an mir getan,
so kann ich deine Wunder, Herr,
so wenig als die Sterne zählen.
Vor deine Huld, die du an meiner Seelen
noch alle Stunden tust,
indem du nie von deiner Liebe ruhst,
vermag ich nicht vollkommen Dank zu weihn.
Mein Mund ist schwach, die Zunge stumm
zu deinem Preis und Ruhm.
Ach sei mir nah
und sprich dein kräftig Hephata,
so wird mein Mund voll Dankens sein!

5. Arie (Bass)

Mein Erlöser und Erhalter,
nimm mich stets in Hut und Wacht!
Steh mir bei in Kreuz und Leiden,
alsdenn singt mein Mund mit Freuden,
Gott hat alles wohl gemacht.

6. Choral

Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan,
darbei will ich verbleiben.
Es mag mich auf die rauhe Bahn
Not, Tod und Elend treiben:
so wird Gott mich
ganz väterlich
in seinen Armen halten.
Drum laß ich ihn nur walten.

Bibliographical references

All libretti sourced from Neue Bach-Ausgabe. Johann Sebastian Bach. Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke, published by the Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Institut Göttingen and the Bach-Archiv Leipzig, Series I (Cantatas), vol. 1–41, Kassel and Leipzig, 1954–2000.
All in-depth analyses by Anselm Hartinger (English translations/editing by Alice Noger-Gradon/Mary Carozza) based on the following sources:  Hans-Joachim Schulze, Die Bach-Kantaten. Einführungen zu sämtlichen Kantaten Johann Sebastian Bachs, Leipzig, 2nd edition, 2007; Alfred Dürr, Johann Sebastian Bach. Die Kantaten, Kassel, 9th edition, 2009, and Martin Petzoldt, Bach-Kommentar. Die geistlichen Kantaten, Stuttgart, vol. 1, 2nd edition, 2005 and vol. 2, 1st edition, 2007.

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